History of the Futuro house

Matti Suuronen - man of the future

The spaceship-style prefabricated house was designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s. The one owned by artist Craig Barnes is one of only approximately 60 still in existence today. Historically, the sole Futuro house to grace London’s skyline was aboard a ferry on the Thames in 1968 as part of the houses’ launch at a FinnFocus trade exhibition. The Daily Mail wrote “this object, looking like everyone else’s idea of a flying saucer from outer Space, is the Finnish idea of a perfect weekend cottage”.

Prefabs

When we think of prefab houses, perhaps we think only of what happened in the late 19th century and 20th century. However, it could be argued that humankind has its very roots in accommodating itself in prefab shelters - in the form of early cave dwellings. Some psychologists have interpreted the appearance of caves in dreams as the ‘womb of planet Earth’; therefore the interior of the Futuro house has often been described as a “plastic womb”. This could explain why many of the Futuro houses manufactured had either predominantly red or purple interiors.

Interest in prefab houses really took off in the 1950s, buoyed by a growing fascination with all things plastic. This led to many of Suuronen's contemporaries to pursue innovations in housing materials and forms in this radical time of new technologies and optimism for the future. In 1968 the Futuro house born, resulting from a client's request to Suuronen which subsequently transformed within the design process into a structure that could be mass-produced as the holiday home of the future.

Suuronen and the ‘holiday home of the future’

Finnish architect Matti Suuronen was born in 1933 in Lammi. He graduated from the Finish Institute of Technology in 1961 with a Diploma in Architecture. Having worked at several practices whilst studying between 1955 and 1961 he established his own architectural bureau upon graduation. 

Building his practice through predominantly small to medium-scale projects, knowledge gained working with fibreglass reinforced plastic in the design of a dome for a grain silo came in handy when a friend, Dr. Jaakko Hiidenkari, asked Suuronen to design him a ski cabin that would be quick to heat and easy to construct in difficult mountainside terrain. 

Suuronen played with various ideas based around domes before finally settling on a perfect elliptical form. The contract for production with given to a Helsinki-based company called Polykem, and the first prototype was built in early 1968, although only when the third one was manufactured was the name ‘Futuro’ born.

Comprised of 16 segments that bolt together, this ‘holiday home of the future’ was designed to be constructed on site by hand in two days, or if desired delivered fully assembled by helicopter onto site. The only requirements for foundations were four concrete piers onto which the steel frame ‘egg cup’ would be placed to receive the ‘egg’ that is the Futuro.

The rise and fall of the Futuro

The Futuro was launched upon the world the same week that mankind first set foot on the moon. As the world went crazy over Neil Armstrong’s first steps, there couldn’t have been a better time to launch a house that personified the hysteria for all things space-related. The Futuro was shown that very week in London as part of the FinnFocus fair, and media interest in the house skyrocketed, creating an initial frenzy that led to the manufacturing rights being licensed around the world to more than 20 countries.

At the same time this mania for all things ‘future’ and ‘space’ was being further distilled into popular culture through product design, film, music, and architecture. One of the most iconic example of this is Stanley Kubrick’s classic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ released in 1968, which demonstrated a timely coming together of many ideas in this field – from the themes of the film itself, through to the use of Olivier Mourgue designed Djinn chairs on set.

Despite these promising beginnings the Futuro house was not a commercial success. The commonly held theory for this failure is that the oil crisis in the early 70’s caused costs of production to triple, making them hugely expensive to create. This coupled with a reluctance to break way from the comfortable societal norm meant that Futuro house’s utopian aspiration were never quite realised.

Futuro today

Today, Futuro houses are rightly revered as being an iconic piece of (both) architecture and mass-produced design. Two of them are in museum collections, with the highly respected Boijmanns in Rotterdam owning the original prototype, which it initially displayed in its exhibition ‘Constructing Utopia’ in 2011. 

Now that we are in the 21st century, interest in prefab architecture and innovative living solution is beginning to peak again. Significant examples such as ‘BedZED’ and ‘Container City’ in London have generated significant exposure for those creating them, as they look to become the new torch bearers for a rekindled enthusiasm for easy-to-assemble homes, which are fit-for-purpose and ecologically friendly.

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